The ‘mañanita effect’
In April 2020, Dominic Cummings, adviser to the British prime minister, became embroiled in a public scandal: He appeared to have broken lockdown rules by traveling 264 miles with his wife to stay at a property near his parents’, at a time when nonessential travel had been banned. What followed was an affair of public outrage and internet memes, as Cummings and his supporters quibbled over the ethics and legality of his actions. At the time, I kept up with the issue over UK public radio, curious as to how government would react and whether the United Kingdom would handle such matters with alacrity and force. As it turns out, the answer was no. For context, other public figures who broke lockdown rules later apologized and resigned. Cummings did not. The prime minister even stood by his adviser’s actions, claiming that the latter had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity.” This led to what was later known as “the Cummings effect”: The loss of public trust that followed, thanks to Cummings’ actions and the government’s responses having undermined the messaging to stay home. The Cummings effect has been cited as a factor contributing to the state of the United Kingdom’s coronavirus response, as case numbers soared higher while crowds were repeatedly photographed in beaches and pubs. It emphasized how much government messaging, as well as the actions of public figures, affects compliance to coronavirus restrictions.
If the effect of the Cummings incident was that disastrous in the United Kingdom, I can only imagine how much confidence has been eroding since similar incidents in the Philippines, from the dismissal of Sen. Koko Pimentel’s quarantine violation complaint, to President Duterte’s easy defense of PNP chief Debold Sinas’ “mañanita.” As it becomes clearer and clearer that rules exist only for some and not for all, there is an understandable shift in public perception and behavior: Rather than aiming to avoid contracting or spreading the virus, the challenge has been how to circumvent rules while following the bare minimum — to “flex” the rules just short of breaking them. After all, it is more natural to follow norms than rules; that is to say, rather than the strict letter of the law, we tend to copy what our neighbors are doing, and see what they can get away with.
We continue to see this effect, perhaps better described as the “mañanita effect,” propagated by the recent behavior of influencers and entertainment bigwigs. Nothing is more sick-making than to watch celebrities living it up, daring to post photos on social media of gatherings with no social distancing and inconsistent mask-wearing, only to have said celebrities hem and haw afterwards about how participants had been tested negative and how the minimum of safety practices had been followed. To quote a better brand of influencer: Bretman Rock recently opined that influencers who party despite COVID-19 risks “know what the f*** they’re doing.” They cannot plead ignorance or excuse their actions in any credible way. It is February 2021, with thousands of infographics and news briefs and articles on basic science published since the start of the pandemic. It is sheer willful ignorance for celebrities to pretend that negative COVID-19 tests remove COVID-19 risk. Never mind that it is also tone-deaf and selfish to post about luxurious parties as the rest of the country faces an economic crisis.
As with the Cummings affair, what irks even more than the transgressions themselves is the unsatisfactory government response. Consider: A paltry fine in exchange for a much publicized violation by a celebrity, versus incarceration for ordinary quarantine violators. Consider tricycle drivers with their vehicles impounded for not following social distancing measures. Consider that fines for protesters have included amounts from P3,000 (for Caloocan jeepney drivers protesting the loss of their livelihood) to P15,000 (for Quezon City protesters asking for food provisions). Indeed, the law appears to operate differently for the one percent.
If these should not be enough to shame partygoers into compliance, they should also consider that we, as essential workers, are watching. We continue to walk in and out of patients’ rooms, handle sanitation, manage grocery and restaurant lines, and so on, while the specter of COVID-19 hovers over every interaction. To celebrities, influencers and other public figures: You would do well to note that in the absence of a vaccine, the level of COVID-19 cases is kept only from explosive numbers by the patience and forbearance of those who continue to obey rules of social distancing, mask-wearing, and quarantining. We are holding ourselves to a higher standard of behavior than you are. The fact that you can party or travel doesn’t mean that you should.
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